Saturday, December 01, 2007
53. Amelia Earhart's Shoes - Thomas King (et al.)

I have to admit that, like some of the other participants, I cheated a bit with this one. I've started it a few weeks ago but have been distracted from reading by various holiday preparations and a seemingly unending number of LOST DVD's.

Amelia Earhart's disappearance is one of the great mysteries of the 20th century. She, along with her navigator, Fred Noonan, undertook what was destined to become the greatest feat of avaition at that time by trying to fly around the world. This would have been an incredible feat for any pilot but the fact that Earhart was one of only a handful of female pilots at the time made it all the more remarkable. Earhart and Noonan took off from Oakland, California in 1937 and flew off into the wild blue yonder...and into history.

Earhart never made it around the world, as everyone knows. Her plane was lost somewhere in the Pacific. However, no one really knows what happened. There's no shortage of speculation on what might have happened to cause the plane to crash or what happened to the two aviators if they survived: Noonan was possibily an alcoholic and put them off course, causing the plane to run out of fuel and crash into the ocean, they had miscalculated the amount of fuel required to reach their next stop after leaving New Guinea, they crashed on one of the many islands in the Pacific and (a) survived but died shortly after, (b) survived and were captured by the Japanese, or (c) Earhart alone survived and lived out the rest of her days under an assumed identity in New Jersey. The list goes on and on.

Amelia Earhart's Shoes looks at all these scenarios and debunks most of them with some certainty (although capture by the Japanese is a bit difficult to prove or disprove). The book follows members of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) on various trips to the South Pacific (specifically the Phoenix Island group) in hopes of shedding a bit more light on Earhart's end. As their research continues, the team uncovers more and more evidence that the two may indeed have crashed on one of the small islands and survived for a short time. Pouring over stacks of historical documents, fighting their way through almost impenatrable walls of scaevola guarding a number of long held secrets, and traversing the four corners of the globe to track down information, the authors (four members of the TIGHAR excursions) provide an interesting hypothesis on what might have happened to the famous aviator and her navigator. Much of their research involves the finding by their team of the partial remains of both a woman's and a man's shoe from the same era as Earhart's voyage, hence the title. Additionally a set of bones, originally thought to be that of a 50ish polynesian man when they were discovered on the island half a century ago, after being examined by a forensic anthropoligist are now believed to be that of a woman similar to Earhart's height, weight, and age! They also stumble across a number of other artifacts which might be associated with the fliers and uncover evidence from as early as a few years after her disappearance by settlers, government officials, and other visitors to the island that help support their theory. While the full and true story of what happened will likely never be known, the TIGHAR team's work, given their findings, seems to be the most likely of scenarios.

Written in a informal tone with plenty of amusing excerpts from the team's personal diaries, Amelia Earhart's Shoes is a highly enjoyable and eye-opening look at the famous aviator's disappearance. Highly recommended.

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